The Most Important Command
Bible reading: John 14:15-21
Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter is published by Pastor Joel Pukallus
There’s an old story about a professor who was assigned to teach an introductory class about time management at a university college in the U.S. Without saying a word, he walked into the classroom and set a four litre, wide mouthed glass jar on the table in front of him. Then he produced about a dozen tennis-ball-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, inside the jar. When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, “Is this jar full?”
Everyone in the class said, “Yes.”
“Really?” he said. Then he reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. He dumped some gravel into the jar and shook it, causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks. Then he smiled and asked the group once more, “Is the jar full?”
By this time the class was starting to catch on. “Probably not,” one of them said.
“Good!” he replied. Then he reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in and it filled all the spaces between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked, “Is this jar full?”
“No!” the class shouted.
Again he said, “Good!” Then he grabbed a jug of water and began to pour in the water until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked back at the class and asked, “What is the point of this illustration?”
One eager student raised his hand and said, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit something more into it!”
“No,” the teacher shouted, “that’s not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is this: if you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.”
He undoubtedly made his point. The problem is—sometimes it’s hard to know what the big rocks are supposed to be. Life can get pretty hectic at times. We have projects at work, priorities at home, and all sorts of extra-curricular activities. Sometimes it can all be pretty overwhelming. We don’t always know where to start.
In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus said that the one who loves me is the one who keeps my commands. That makes it even worse? Which ones, what are Jesus’ commands? What are the big rocks we should be taking care of first?
The Rabbis in Jesus’ day identified 613 specific commands in the Torah (what we call the Old Testament). Which one was the most important? Which one took top priority? They would argue endlessly. But what was the most important command according to Jesus?
We have the answer in Matthew chapter 22, and Mark chapter 12:
One of the teachers of the law came and heard Jesus arguing with the Sadducees. Seeing that Jesus gave good answers to their questions, he asked Jesus, “Which of the commands is most important?”
Jesus answered, “The most important command is this: ‘Listen, people of Israel! The Lord our God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second command is this: ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself.’ There are no commands more important than these.”
And on the night when he was betrayed he gave us a new commandment. Are you surprised that it was “Love one another” ?
We are not God’s children only if we love enough. We are not in or out on the basis of our ability to do this properly.
Our salvation is assured through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that Easter event is the very epitome of these two commands. Jesus loved his Father with all his heart, mind, soul and strength, and loved his neighbour, you and me, even more than himself, such that he was even willing to give that self up for us, and out of obedience to his father.
We have that done for us. This means that we don’t need to keep these commandments perfectly to be part of the kingdom of God. We now can keep these commandments BECAUSE we are part of the kingdom of God. We love because he first loved us, and we are blessed so that we can be a blessing to others.
We can love with everything he has given us (because our heart, mind, soul and strength are all gifts from God) and we can love everyone he has given us.
Love everyone God has given you, and love him with everything he has given you. All the rest will take care of itself. If we get that right, the big rocks, all the other stuff will take care of itself. We will be active in love, we will be speaking only words that build up, and not words that tear down, we will be living our devotional lives, excited to read his word, and worship him whenever we can, and we will be wanting to share all that he has given us with others.
Realise, too, at the moment that people are hurting, and if they upset you, love them enough to try to understand where it is coming from, and what they are going through. Love puts itself in the other’s shoes.
These are the things that are closest to God’s heart. These are the big rocks.
Let us love one another, for Love comes from God. And you know what? So do we.